(Or: The Hidden Costs of Powering Through)
A friend of mine was bemoaning a difficult client.
And the idea of not working with them anymore came up, but as a non-option. Mentioned as wishful thinking but dismissed as something that would ruin her reputation. And would put her squarely in the “unprofessional” category.
I don’t agree.
If the project is draining you, sticking with it because you feel like you have to for whatever reason is a double-whammy.
Time spent on the project from hell is, well, hellish.
We all have a limited capacity for any given project. That’s just the way life is. We need to take time to sleep and eat and bathe and keep the health inspectors from condemning our kitchens and bathrooms. Ahem.
And we have family obligations and other clients and other projects on our plates.
Oh, and *gasp* we might even have a hobby.
If you’re self-employed, chances are you made that choice so you’d have more control over your work. With the goal of, you know, enjoying more of it.
The upshot: The time you give to a miserable project is time you can’t give to a project you enjoy.
Work that makes us miserable comes with an additional bit of fun: Recovery Time.
If you’re dealing with a difficult client, or fighting with technology, or there’s generally no flow in your work, it’s draining. You might even spend the time working on that project in acute stress.
When I was at the day job, every email in my inbox got my adrenaline pumping because it meant fixing a problem I didn’t want to fix. And then I’d go home and be a zombie all evening because I’d spent 8+ hours in fight-or-flight mode.
Those evenings I spent zoned out in front of the TV? I certainly wasn’t working on my business. Unless my business was couch-based ass-print development.
The upshot: Time spent recovering from a miserable project is also time you can’t spend on work you enjoy.
So what’s the solution?
I know it’s not as simple as telling you, “If you’re miserable, then bail.”
However, if the only thing stopping you from getting a miserable project off your plate is an uncomfortable conversation and possibly refunding some money?
I say, do it. Get it off your plate so you have the energy to replace it with a project that thrills you.
But, but, but!
Yes, it’s hard. It’s especially hard if it puts you in a cash-flow bind, or involves ending a client relationship.
But here’s another but: When we’re doing work that makes us miserable, we’re not doing our best work.
If you feel like you can’t quit because you’d be leaving someone hanging, I would argue you’d be doing them a favor. Sure, there might be an inconvenience factor for them, but you’re giving them the chance to work with someone who’s a better fit.
At the very least, you owe it to yourself to have a good think about why you feel like you can’t stop working on the thing that is draining your best creative energy.
Here’s what I would ask myself (and you, if we were working together):
Why can’t I stop working on the project (or with the client)? What would happen?
Who says my reputation will be ruined? Is that really true?
What will continuing with this project cost me (not just in terms of money)?
Looking back, what can I learn about this type of project or client? Were there any signs that told me to say no? Why did I say yes?
What did I think I would get out of saying yes, and what did I actually get?
What can I do so that, going forward, it’s easier to recognize and say no to the projects that aren’t right for me before I start working on them?
It’s all learning
Maybe you’re in a sticky project situation and you’d like to get out of it. And at the same time, maybe you feel like you just can’t take the necessary steps to make that happen. It’s too scary. Or the stakes feel too high.
It’s okay. Really.
This isn’t about increasing your stress by turning your work upside down. It’s about noticing and learning what works for you and what doesn’t. And using what you notice to create an amazing work-life (and life-life, for that matter).
Because now you’ll look at your not-so-enjoyable project differently. You’ll begin to see where and why it went wrong, and you’ll apply that information to choosing your next project.
That’s the cycle of learning: Make a choice. Notice how it plays out. Take notes on what you learned. Apply said learning to future choices.
How would it feel to be rid of That Project? What could you do with the extra time and energy you’d have?